God's Consolation Price
Robert Quine’s life ended messily this week. I found this incredibly sad. What made me more sad was my utter failure to describe to a loved one why this should make me sad. So I won’t repeat the obvious facts because they really don’t work.

This week I received a package of videos from Sweden. Clearly the postal services got the wrong idea, as the package had been ripped open and you somehow sensed the videos played. Well I hope they did. These were a set of short films called This Is Our Music, made by the great Andres Lokko and colleagues for MTV, covering various towns and cities around the world and some of the great and very current underground music being made. Seeing a Stockholm-made short film about Fence Records, and another featuring interviews with icons like Sam Prekop and Thrill Jockey’s Bettina Richards, is an absolute joy, and I was sitting there thinking this is why I still believe in music and magic.

Robert Quine played guitar in a certain way on a few songs that made me believe in beauty, poetry, and romance. He executed a guitar solo in the middle of a song called 'Blank Generation' that for me defines what music is all about. And I am talking specifically about the version of 'Blank Generation' that appears on that LP which Sire released in 1977. It’s an LP that also features 'Love Comes In Spurts' where Quine’s guitar opens up possibilities that have only barely been realised since by the likes of the The Fall, Subway Sect, Blue Orchids, Pop Group, Josef K and Fire Engines.

Quine’s abstract expressionism carried echoes of the electric blues, the most primitive of r’n’r rumbles. the electric Miles, the pioneers of the British r’n’b response and America’s own garage parry and thrust, and of course the Velvets and Stooges. It was all bound up in there., but there was something uniquely his. Don’t just take my word for it. Look at the beautiful passage Lester Bangs wrote about Quine’s adventuresomeness on the guitar in his infamous 1977 Clash feature. It’s probably the most moving piece of music writing ever, and I hate Lester Bangs!

It doesn’t matter what else Robert did apart from his rule rewriting guitar work as part of Richard Hell and the Voidoids. But two things are of special interest. One is his youthful obsession with the Velvet Underground. I only know of two people that were completely obsessed by the Velvet Underground when they were still very much rewriting rules. One being Jonathan Richman who has created the most incredible canon of beautiful songs over a very long period. And there was Robert, who many years later translated his obsessiveness into the beautiful boxed set of Velvets live recordings that came out a while back to complement the magic he performed himself.

The other? Well after the Blank Generation came the New York No Wave, which Quine was almost a godfather to. He produced some of the incredible Teenage Jesus and the Jerks recordings, played with James White and the Blacks, performed on Lydia Lunch’s Queen of Siam set. And you kind of get the impression he was standing in the wings urging that whole set on to make even more of a manic racket. It reminds me of the infamous heckling of Huggy Bear, and the plea for less structure.

I used to have this dream of marrying some of Quine’s slashing, clanging guitars sounds to some deep dark dub reggae. But did I need to? I would often listen to something like Keith Hudson’s 'Pick A Dub', and feel some kind of link between the way the Jamaican alchemists’ guitars would jolt and jerk like forked lightning over all the echo and space, and the way Quine savagely scrawls across Richard Hell’s carefully prepared canvasses and totally obliterates the purposefully prepared words.

I don’t know about the demons that tormented Robert, but I do know his inventiveness left me at a very early age (I was 13 when I heard his solo on 'Blank Generation'!) with a sense of what should be, but rarely ever was. That created problems for me, and often left me very angry at the world for failing the meet the challenges he set, but it’s better that way.

And on learning of his death, I sat and listened to that Blank Generation LP and remembered why I still believe in magic.

© 2004 John Carney